Chef Lex Grant On Spreading Love Through Food
The chef to Carmelo Anthony (and many others) talks about her journey, her style and creating a Jamaican food pop-up in Portland.
Words: Alexis Barnett
Photography: Akila Fields
Somewhere in New Jersey stands the childhood home that helped shape Chef Alexia “Lex” Grant into everything she is today. As the granddaughter of immigrants who moved from Jamaica to London and eventually to the U.S, Lex grew up with the familiar fragrance of foods containing rich Caribbean and Indian history. “My friends used to sneak me American junk food,” she jokes. “My family would never buy stuff like that.”
With the help of her grandfather’s gardening and time spent with her grandmother making patties, Lex quickly developed her love of food. That education, supplemented by advice from her grandfather, turned cooking into her life-long passion. Fast forward to today, and Chef Grant has truly made a name for herself, cooking for a long list of celebrities and private clients, which currently includes Jordan Brand family member, Carmelo Anthony. Last year, when the NBA needed help feeding its players in the bubble, she was the first one they called.
With the bubble behind her, Lex has been preparing for a new food pop-up titled “Miss Winnie’s Kitchen,” a food experience bringing her grandmother’s recipes to Portland, Oregon (and eventually all over the U.S.). She also plans on releasing her first cookbook, an intimate collaboration with her mother and grandmother, later this Spring. “Culturally, a lot of the things my grandmother cooked for us helped ensure that we didn’t lose who we are,” explains Lex. “You don’t always take those things into account when you’re younger, so I wanted to go back to those roots and use food as love and fuel.”
We caught up with Alexia Grant ahead of her pop-up’s Portland debut to talk about all things food, changing the world and style.
What was your household like when you were growing up?
I’m first-generation American. Back in New Jersey, my grandfather kept a garden, so we grew all of our fruits and vegetables. I had a lot of dualities: on one hand, I was craving pizza, but on the other hand, I had to pick my own string beans.
When did you first develop a love for cooking?
I used to love making patties with my grandmother, but it wasn’t until my grandfather, who was passing away, asked me to do something with my life. I was one step away from taking the completely wrong path at the time. But he came to me and said, “We fought so hard for you to be here. Do something. I don’t care what it is, just do something that you love.”
So I applied to culinary school. They asked me back a week later. I took some tests, and I wrote an essay. The day that I got accepted, I got a call from my mom saying that my grandfather had passed away.
It took me a few years to take cooking as seriously as I needed to. But I knew that it had to be my thing, so I never stopped cooking, even when I wanted to. I had to figure out my lane. It was my grandfather who encouraged me to pursue this dream.
What were you working on between leaving culinary school and your current gig with Carmelo Anthony?
I worked at several restaurants like Fig & Olive. Then, I worked for Angela Simmons and her whole family, plus quite a few other celebrities. Angela prepared me for the Instagram world. My time with her taught me about building a brand and asking myself what I’m representing through my food. There was so much that she instilled in me, to the extent that people like Carmelo would become aware of me. She showed me the way.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you arrived at the NBA bubble?
A huge challenge was that everybody was still figuring out the process. There were eight or nine other chefs in the kitchen with me, and we all had to, as strangers and rivals representing different teams, come together and make it work.
We wanted the kitchen to be the most functional that it could be. On the other hand, there were days when one chef’s team and another chef’s team were competing to knock each other out. It was very intense; you’re in a place with all these rules and restrictions, but you have to work in harmony. It was the biggest “kumbaya” moment ever.
What were some of the takeaways you got from that experience?
One of the biggest takeaways is that I was a part of history. Although it was difficult coming into a situation where nobody had all the answers, everyone added value to make a bigger machine work, to make people happy and to impact so many. I was purposeful, and I felt like my presence there was appreciated.
Moving on to your pop-up, what made you decide to pursue this experience in Portland?
My grandmother got sick with COVID-19, and it made me wonder: “Is she going to die before I’m able to give her flowers and show her what I’m doing?”
For me, this is an opportunity to honor where I come from. I was able to get through the bubble because of my family. They raised me to be the woman I am. Every single part of my personality, the work experiences, the lessons I learned from them…all of that made me strong. Especially recently, I’ve been able to reassess what’s important to me.
This pop-up concept is all about spreading love through the food I was raised on. I wouldn’t be able to deliver at this level if it wasn’t for my family and those who have supported me along the way. So I’m showing up and showing out for them on a public scale.
What are you hoping for people to get out of your pop-up?
Right now, our world has shifted, and everyone is searching for a sense of normalcy. The food I’m making is from my heart, these are my family’s blood recipes. Not everybody has the opportunity to travel right now, so I’m bringing an authentic Caribbean experience and excellent food to people for those three nights.
How do sneakers and streetwear fit into your personal style?
Well, I am a sneakerhead. It’s difficult to wear any other shoe when you’re a chef running around from one grocery store to another.
My personal style is influenced by basketball. You want to be comfortable and confident when you’re around your clients. You don’t really get the opportunity to come to work cute. But I can show my style through the sneakers I wear, or how I match my chef jacket with my sneakers for the day. I like that type of swag.
What are your favorite features from the Air Jordan IX “Change the World,” the first-ever women’s AJ9, and the new Jordan Max-200 (MA2)?
I love the MA2, because it’s functional in the kitchen, so I’m able to get around without slipping. It’s also easy to clean, and I like the softness of the air cushioning.
The AJ9s are also awesome. I love that they say, “Change the world.” I’m all about the impact I’m making on everybody. With the company I have, it’s important for me to be a role model. I have a lot of kids who follow me and watch what I do. Being an example means repping it, especially in my drip.
Speaking of, how do you hope to change your industry and the world around you?
I hope to change the industry I’m in by creating a new generation of leaders and thought provokers. There has been a huge shift in how we make money and our capacity to make money on our own. We can create our own jobs and opportunities, as long as we move with integrity.
Some chefs have a hard time working well with others. I’m changing that narrative by creating a safe space for chefs to share, build, grow, ask for advice and help one another come up. Our industry is dying out right now, and collaboration is a very integral part of how we’ll provide services going forward. I want to be the standard for that.
Do you have any tips when it comes to ingredients people should have on-hand during a lockdown?
It’s imperative to get foods with antioxidants like lime, ginger and oranges — things that are antioxidant based, build immunity and fight infection. Manuka honey and sea moss are standard in my home and in the homes of my clients. Other than that, it’s always nice to have pasta and sauce. No matter your culture, everyone has their own version of pasta, so it’s definitely a must for me.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want to be remembered as a kind, thoughtful person who always brought God into the room. I’m a caretaker, so if I am remembered for taking great care of others, I will be happy.
The Spring 2021 Jordan WMNS Flight Essentials Collection is now available on Jordan.com. The Jordan MA2 will be available in March with additional colorways releasing throughout spring. The WMNS Air Jordan IX “Change The World” is available starting March 4.